That’s slander! No, libel…

Posted: 01/03/2016 in Uncategorized

I wrote this some time ago and keep forgetting to add it to the blog. So here you have it!

There has been a fair amount of behind the scenes aggravation lately with people asking for references in private groups etc and then that enquiry being forwarded to the person being enquired about. This has led to accusations of libel, slander and defamation (yes, it’s defamation, not deformation!) and it would appear that the majority of people don’t actually know what it all means, so they throw it out there in the hopes of scaring people.

I’m going to clarify a few points here.

There is a difference between the three things. Libel is the written word. Slander is the spoken word (there are rare exceptions where slander can be written) and defamation encapsulates both of these.

Now, to bring about a case for defamation there must be ‘serious harm’. This means that the statement made has caused, or is likely to cause serious harm to your reputation. This usually equates to financial loss caused by people believing the statement. Serious harm cannot be claimed if:

You already have a bad reputation.

Publication is limited (i.e. posted on a private group, or stated in a private message, email etc)

The statement criticises goods or services.

 

This means that a request for a reference in a private group where a negative reference is left is not going to hold up under UK law.

Now you have the ‘defences’:

Truth being the main one. If what is said about you holds truth, you don’t have a leg to stand on.

Honest opinion. If the person making the statement based on the facts they know to be true and a fair minded person could reasonably believe the statement, it will not be classed as defamation. This can also be classed as “I think that ‘x’ is completely unprofessional, pushes levels and generally makes me uncomfortable’. That is honest opinion, and doesn’t have to be proven as it is how that person feels.

However, if they say ‘He/She IS completely unprofessional and pushes levels’ there needs to be proof were it ever to be raised in legal action as it is made as a statement of fact.

Public interest. If the statement made is believed to be in the public interest, for example, if you were to post something publicly stating that you had a bad experience with ‘x’, that does not qualify as defamation if a reasonable person could believe the statement to be true.

Privilege. Qualified privilege applies where the publisher has a legitimate duty to publish information to a third party and the third party has a legitimate reciprocal interest in receiving it, such as an employment reference or a reply to an inquiry. This includes a request in a group for references about a person whom you intend to work with as well as replies which are negative because the request was made for such information. Obviously, you have to reasonably believe your response to be true.

Also, bear in mind that legal aid is not generally available for such claims so expenses would have to be met by the claimant, so unless you have a watertight case that proves defamation (see ’serious harm’), you’re likely to end up out of pocket. Likewise, don’t leave yourself open to a case unless you know you can prove your statement is held in fact, or else you could find yourself liable for costs and damages.

Educate yourselves folks and save yourselves a lot of hassle throwing around threats that have no weight to them.

 

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Comments
  1. Dan says:

    I thought I knew all this but your article has clarified a point I was incorrect in. Nicely written and easy to follow, thank you.

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